High Court, Centre rap Delhi govt over handling of oxygen crisis; HC says if you can’t manage we will ask Centre to take over

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Updated: April 27, 2021 10:05 PM

The court said the Delhi government's entire system has failed as black marketing of oxygen cylinders and crucial medicines for treating COVID-19 patients is going on.

The direction was issued after the court was informed by some lawyers that there was rampant overcharging of medicines and equipment.The direction was issued after the court was informed by some lawyers that there was rampant overcharging of medicines and equipment.

The Delhi government on Tuesday came under scathing attack from both the High Court and the Centre over its handling of the medical oxygen crisis that has hit COVID-19 patients here with the former saying if the state cannot handle the situation it will ask the latter to take over gas refiller units as it can’t let people die.

“Mr. Rahul Mehra (Delhi government counsel) get your house in order,” the Delhi High Court said, observing that the Delhi government has left re-fillers “to have a free run” even as hospitals “are crying hoarse for oxygen”.

“Enough is enough. If you can’t do this, tell us, we will ask the central government to take over these (oxygen refilling) plants. We can’t let people die,” a bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli observed, as it came down heavily on the AAP government over its “failure” to check black marketing of oxygen cylinders. “The problem lies with the Delhi government.”

In a strong criticism of the Kejriwal government for its alleged failure to arrange tankers for transportation of oxygen for the city’s hospitals overstretched by mounting COVID-19 cases, the Centre said pro-active actions by it on a “war footing” could have “avoided tragic incidents”.

In a hard-hitting letter to Delhi Chief Secretary Vijay Dev, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla also claimed that the Delhi government’s efforts to resolve logistical issues for procuring oxygen have “not been up to the mark” at a time when other states and union territories have been making earnest and professional efforts on the matter.

Bhalla wrote the letter on April 25. However, on Tuesday, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told a media briefing that the huge demand for the life-saving gas witnessed last week amid a surge in coronavirus cases has been addressed and the situation has improved significantly in the past two days.

During an over three-hour long hearing on urgent issues relating to oxygen crisis and shortage of medicines to treat COVID-19 patients, the high court directed nodal officer Udit Prakash to ensure supply of oxygen by cylinders to hospitals and nursing homes “without fail.”

It also directed the city government to take over plants of refillers of oxygen cylinders in case they fail to maintain supply to hospitals and issued contempt notices to five suppliers for not appearing for the hearing despite orders, saying “it is not the time to become vultures”.

The court said the Delhi government’s entire system has failed as black marketing of oxygen cylinders and crucial medicines for treating COVID-19 patients is going on.

It also directed the government to file a report on the number of deaths of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and nursing homes due to the shortage of oxygen, saying their families need to be compensated as this was the responsibility of the state.

Besides, it asked the Delhi government to take account of stock and sale of medicines such as Remdesivir, Fabiflu and Tocilizumab at hospital pharmacies, as people are unable to get these drugs which are being sold at much higher rates in the black market and to do a random audit of supplies.

The court said even after supplying tonnes and tonnes of oxygen no account is maintained by authorities about supplies.

“This is leading to an artificial shortage of oxygen on one hand and black marketing on the other hand,” it said, adding the reluctance of refiller units to provide information to the government makes it obvious that they do not want to maintain transparency.

“Are you aware of black marketing? Is it a good human gesture? It is not the time to become vultures,” the judges told oxygen refillers.
The court directed the city government to check black marketing of oxygen cylinders and medicines and address the issue of oxygen distribution to hospitals and individuals here.

It said in today’s situation nobody can be allowed to take public for a ride and directed the government to file an affidavit on the status of oxygen stocks available with gas refillers by Wednesday morning.

“Be sure if lives are lost, we are going to haul up their officers. Mr. Tushar Mehta (Solicitor General) was right that the situation is not like what is shown here and the problem lies with the Delhi government.

“You are the administrators, you know how to exercise your powers and how to administer things.”

Highlighting various steps taken by the central government like stopping oxygen supply to industries, uninterrupted movement of oxygen tankers, airlifting of tankers from abroad, Secretary Bhalla said all state governments and UTs have been making diligent and continuous efforts at their level for the last few days to arrange tankers for the allocated quantity of medical oxygen and a specially designated virtual group was formed by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) for facilitation.

“However, Delhi government has hardly been able to arrange any tankers so far though many crucial days have passed since the government of India made allotment of oxygen,” Bhalla’s letter said, urging the Delhi chief secretary to urgently take immediate action in this regard as is being done by chief secretaries and other officials of other states and UTs.

The home secretary said presently, there is no shortage of medical oxygen supply and Delhi had been allocated 480 MT on April 21 after consultation with officers of the Delhi government.

“However, it has been brought to my notice that Delhi has received less supply than its actual allocation made by the government of India largely due to logistical issues which are not at all addressed by the state government.”

Bhalla said the Delhi government had directed INOX, one of the main suppliers of oxygen, to supply 98 MT to 17 hospitals situated within Delhi, while INOX was supplying 105 MT to 45 hospitals situated within Delhi for a long time.

Furthermore, alternative arrangements for the remaining 28 hospitals were not properly tied up by the Delhi government, he claimed.

“As a result, some of these hospitals have been complaining about severe shortage of medical oxygen and one hospital mentioned that some persons died because of it.

“This could have been avoided had proper, effective, and meaningful consultations with various stakeholders, specially the suppliers and recipient hospitals, had been done well in time by Delhi government,” Bhalla said.

Bhalla said a virtual meeting with all hospitals in Delhi, taking stock of their respective capacities and infrastructure, guiding them to suitably augment their storage and pressure facilities to the required level with the help of experts of the field “would have avoided tragic incidents”.

“Such things are to be immediately taken up proactively and on a war footing with the state government taking the initiative.”

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